But today they were welcomed back with open arms as customers voted with their feet to show their support for their local high street.
It really was a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder as people put on their warmest outfits and disregarded early showers to visit the town, do some shopping, eat some lunch and get their hair cut.
The town was even busier than usual as its market returned, for the first time in months.
Among the stall holders was Perry Leon, of Leon’s Fruit and Veg.
Perry and his wife Sandy have run the stall for nearly 25 years in Fareham and Gosport.
Perry, from West End, said: ‘We have been doing deliveries but that’s all. The high streets were empty. It’s been tough. We just don’t know what to expect from today, it’s a leap into the unknown.’
Their early fears were put to bed as trade picked up throughout the day.
Perry said: ‘It’s been better than we expected.’
Lopez Wilder, 53, from Gosport, runs Peruvian Goods and Chicken in West Street Fareham, selling cooked chicken.
He said: ‘It’s good to see people about. We are happy to be here and to see everything open.’
Crowds also formed in Fareham Shopping Centre, especially for Debenhams, which has announced that it will be closing for good soon – and it has launched a closing-down sale.
Mike Taylor, centre manager, said his staff were working hard to make sure the queues were safe.
He said: ‘The centre and its retailers have worked very hard to prepare for the reopening and we are excited to welcome back our customers, it has been a great start with customers safely queuing.’
Jennifer Martin, 31, from Copnor, was with her nan Margaret Aylott, 72, and mum Tracey Going, 52, both from Widley, in the queue outside Debenhams.
Jennifer is getting married on August 21 in Gretna Green and they are on the hunt for bargains.
Jennifer said: ‘It’s sad that the chains are going, there’s nothing left in the town centres anymore. We are hoping to find some bargains though, get in and get out quick.’
Elsewhere bargain hunters were out in force at Fareham’s many charity shops.
Jo Lee, manager of the Rainbow Centre charity shop in West Street, said: ‘I couldn’t wait to open up again today. We have lots of stock. I hope that customers start coming back again so that we can raise as much money as we can for our charity.’
Bargain hunters Danni Mills, 20, and Connor Crosby, 22, from Fareham, were charity shop shopping.
Connor, who works in a supermarket, said: ‘We are looking for bargains and charity shops are the best place to find them, you never know what you’re going to find. It’s like a treasure hunt. It’s good to have everything open again and to be able to go out and not feel as worried.’
Olivia Kneller, 24, from Paulsgrove, was out shopping at charity shops in West Street, Fareham.
She said: ‘I don’t like buying new so it’s been difficult to buy second-hand during lockdown. I’ve also bought some incense sticks from Craft Crazy as buying online can be expensive and I would rather support a small business, I think that’s important.’
Esme Vivian, 81, from Fareham, was buying her newspaper at McColl’s in West Street, Fareham.
She has been busy throughout lockdown with a tin foil and bottle cap recycling scheme that she runs with her husband John.
She said: ‘It’s nice to see so many people about today and to see all the market stalls again that we have missed for such a long time.’
Elsewhere in the town, outside seating at cafes and pubs was proving popular.
Rachel Preston, 49, was with her mum Lesley Pack, 74, brother Gary Pack, 59, and friend Necia Bloom, 71, enjoying a coffee at Stones in West Street.
Gary said: ‘It’s nice to be able to see people face to face again.’
Rachel said: ‘We are so glad that Stones is open again, we have missed them. It’s nice to support our community and it’s lovely to be able to meet up properly again and catch up over a cuppa.’
Charity shop volunteer Audrey Pinchin, 68, and Clive Barnfield, 63, from Fareham, were one of the first to enjoy breakfast and coffee at La Galerie in West Street, Fareham.
Clive, a security guard, said: ‘I’m glad to see today come, I hope that people behave themselves so lockdown is lifted further.’